Hands-On with the Plantronics Voyager Pro

norman

Geeks have to be suckers for Bluetooth headsets. Don’t believe me? I have purchased no fewer than five Bluetooth headsets ranging from Plantronics, to Cardo and Motorola in the last two years.

Among the most disappointing was the Voyager 855. Although it fit my tiny ear canals well, the reliability of it was, well, everything you’ve come to expect of a Bluetooth headset. Sometimes it would connect with my admittedly mediocre Windows Mobile phone and sometimes it wouldn’t.

It didn’t help that the audio levels were just too low. At least the noise cancellation was top notch. Still, I had to chuck it for two Cardo units: The S-640 and the S-800. I had the highest hopes for the S-640 clip-on unit and carded ear piece. Unfortunately, incoming sound quality was dismal and the lack of noise cancellation made conversations in my beater with original struts impossible. Did I mention that it too was quite flakey with the Bluetooth connection. The S-800, however, was quite reliable. It locked onto my phone and worked fine. The volume was also almost painfully loud when set to max. The UI was good and the quick dial feature that let you access the first few slots in your speed dial was awesome.

It’s too bad it didn’t fit very well. It felt like someone had wedged a pinkie into my ear canal. Noise cancellation was also just average. I used it for many months until I decided to buy yet another Bluetooth unit: Motorola’s H680. Its rock solid connections to my phone and its dual-microphone noise cancellation made it my favorite Bluetooth headset – for about four months. Sore after four months of jamming the H680 into my ear, I decided to again upgrade on a shopping trip to Fry’s with the guys and bought a Motorola H710. This headset didn’t have the dual-mic cancellation of the H680 (which is why I picked the H680 over it) but it was the most comfortable Bluetooth unit I had used because it sat on the outside of my ear. The volume was very good, the noise cancellation OK, and it always connected to my phone. What was wrong? Battery life. After five months of use, the battery life became dismal.

I only use my headset in my car and turn it off when not in use. Initially I could get a week or two without having to recharge it. That turned into a week and now it seems like it needs to visit the charger every three days.

That’s when Plantronic’s Voyager Pro showed up. Not exactly pleased with the performance of the Voyager 855, I didn’t expect much. The units bulky look and mic boom didn’t exactly win me over either. It’s hard not to say: “Operator, what number please.”

But, at least it’s not as garish as a Jawbone. Wearing the Voyager Pro is actually a delight. It’s comfortable and you could, if you were so inclined, keep it over your ear for hours without it bugging you. Even though it made me feel like an ass, I did just that at the office.

Audio performance is quite good. Plantronics said the design lets it use a very large 13mm speaker as opposed to the 9mm or 10mm speakers that other designs use. This lets it pump the volume and gives it a fuller range.

The larger body also aids in fairly good battery life claims (I haven’t had it long enough to run down the battery) and, according to Plantronics, longer range because it features much larger antenna. In the few days I’ve played with it, connectivity issues – something that pissed me off to no end with the Voyager 855 – was not an issue. Plantronics said the 855’s problems likely came from the immature A2DP profile implementation.

The key selling point of the Voyager Pro is the noise cancellation. No longer do people just want to talk on their phones in quiet environments or the slightly louder car environment – they also want to do the Bluetooth thing while walking down the street on a windy day.

To that point, I can say the Voyager Pro lives up to its name. I simulated a windy environment with a fan our lab and my previous fave, the Motorola H710, was useless in the wind, the Voyager Pro magically made the wind noise disappear.

So it’s comfortable on my ear and in my ear, reasonably loud, reliably connects to my phone and effectively erases background noise without making me sound too much like a robot from a 1950s movie which heavy noise cancellation can do. To me, that’s a win. Even better, at $99, it’s a pretty good deal in this class of headset even if your co-workers may kid you about heading off to your job at the McDonald’s drive-thru window (not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

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